Growing Pains

Many years ago, I performed a piece called Shedding Skins.  It was about how as we mature, we change our beliefs.  I had on different personae outfits that I shed as I did the piece.  At the end, I recited a poem I wrote and stripped down to my panties.  I left the panties on because there’s always change in the future.  It was a smashing success, if I do say so myself, and I have found myself thinking about that performance when I contemplated today’s blog entry.

Obviously, this is a time of great change for me.  The problem is, the old behaviors no longer work for me, but I don’t have anything with which to replace them yet.  There was a glitch with my mother’s credit card for an auto pay (for, ironically enough, auto insurance).  I was pretty clear that she needed to take care of it because it’s her credit card, damn it.   She, however, has a thing about doing this kind of thing.  She says it’s because of the time difference, but I know it is more than that.  At any rate, she called last night to talk about it, and I–oh, wait.

I had my therapy session yesterday morning.  I wrote a letter in response to my mother’s letter (while studiously ignoring my father’s letter).  For the most part, I am going to tell my mom that we should talk about it in person the next time she is in the States.  Then, my therapist and I talked about my mother’s reaction to any problem (playing out the worst-case scenario and coming up with a zillion reasons why she positively, absolutely cannot do anything about it).  My therapist said that when my mom starts going into her programmed response, I need to think to myself, “Oh, this is my mother’s issue.  It’s how she deals with things.  It’s not personal.”  Now, this is a great thing to observe.  It really is my mother’s way of dealing with problems, and she is consistent in that she responds that way every damn time.

Back to the phone call.  We started talking about who should take care of the problem.  The problem being that her new card has a different number than the old one.  She knew that because she had problems with it before, but she didn’t think about how it would affect her auto pays.  She has many bills on auto pay, so it was a potential nightmare.  I said because it was her card, she had to take care of it.  She started whining (yes, whining) about why she couldn’t.  First it was the time difference (I said to call the toll-free number at any time).  Then, it was how she didn’t have time to sit on the phone and wait for fifteen minutes as she got transfered from person to person to person.  I said she was pulling out the worst-case scenario, and I started getting angry.  All thoughts of how it’s her issue and the way she deals with things flew right out of my head, and I fell back into my own habit of becoming stubborn, sullen, and recalcitrant.   Then she talked about how she hurt this and hurt that and how it was hard to blah blah blah.   She wanted me to call and then if I couldn’t handle it, she would see what she could do.  That seemed backwards to me as I thought she should try first and then I would handle it if she couldn’t get it done.

I tried to stand firm, but she fucking wore me down, as usual.  I agreed, grudgingly, that I would see what was up with the bank and then call the auto insurance first to take care of the problem (stanch the bleeding) and then take it from there.  I said if worse came to worse,  I could write checks for any overdue bills and then she could take care of the mess when she returned to MN.  The weirdest thing is that after I explained the options, my mom repeated them back to me almost verbatim as if she hadn’t heard me.  I kept saying that I had just said that, but she wouldn’t stop.

After I caved, she thanked me and said she was grateful for my help.  I didn’t say anything because I felt as if I’d been battered into doing it.  Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she said my father wanted to talk to me.  When she handed the phone to me, he started talking about the weather (it’s “very cold” there–around sixty).  I was still seething at that point, so I didn’t say much.  OK, to be honest, I also just did not want to talk to him, either.   The strange thing is that he did not hear what I said, either.  I mean that literally.  It got me thinking that perhaps both my parents are so used to being in their own little worlds, they don’t know how to interact personally any more.  I know both of them are losing their hearing to some degree, too.   And, English is the third language for both of them, so there is that barrier as well.  Still, I have to wonder if some mental faculties are slipping as well.

After the phone call, I was fuming at my mother.  I hated the way she infantilized herself in order not to do something that made her uncomfortable.  In addition, she refuses to use her credit card online, which makes things more difficult, indeed.  So, she dismisses real solutions as well, which is frustrating, too.  The thing is, I don’t like the fact that I recognize that I do a similar thing when faced with something unpleasant.  I think of the worst-case scenario, and I let it freeze me.  I dismiss one solution after the other, coming up with eleven-billionty reasons why I cannot do whatever it is in question.  Oh, I was also pissed because I have asked my mother to give me power-of-attorney for situations such as this, and she never has.

Plus, I was discouraged because I fell so easily into old behaviors.  Yes, I know that they are pretty ingrained and that I have had them for a lifetime.  Still.  Now that I have some awareness, I should be able to at least hold out for a minute before sliding right back into the old interaction patterns.

A few minutes later, my phone rang again.  It was my brother.  My mother had called him and asked him to help me with the problem.  My brother suggested we set up online access to my mother’s account.  Then, I could set up Bill Pay so the money would be drawn directly from the account rather than rely on a credit card.   My brother is very good with pragmatic solutions to situations like this.   He was going to set up the account, but he couldn’t because we don’t have the PIN for the account.  So, I called the bank, pretended to be my mother, and set up the account.   It turns out that the auto insurance is the only one done with the credit card, so nothing else was overdue.  And, I took care of the auto insurance this morn–um, afternoon.  It went very smoothly.  In fact, dealing with the insurance company was a best-case scenario.

I’m discouraged at how enmeshed I am with my mother.  I felt like I had no choice but to take care of this issue.  This is another reason I have to be self-reliant–so I can choose whether I want to do something for her or not rather than feel forced into it.  One thing I did choose to do for her was write a poem about the dragon for her book.  See, her symbol is the dragon.  It was the section of the book (her symbol paper) that gave us the most trouble.  I have always liked the dragon, but I stayed away from it because it was my mother’s symbol.  After receiving the quilt from Kel (which had dragons on it), I realized that I could reclaim the dragon.  It means something completely different to me than it does to my mother, and that’s just the way it should be.  She wrote her very first poem for her book, and it was about the dragon.  She asked me from the start to write one of my own, but I refused.  In the revisions, we had to pull a bunch of poems about the dragon due to copyright issues.  I had been mulling over what the dragon meant to me, and I decided to write a short poem for my mother’s book.  She liked it a lot, so it’s going to be published.

I chose to write the poem.  I didn’t feel like I had to write it or that I couldn’t write it (the two extremes),  and that is where I want to be with my mother for the most part.  She is not going to change.  Or, as my therapist said, I can’t expect her to change.  I have to change my own behavior for my sake and deal with whatever fallout happens as a result.  I’m having such a hard time with this because I am changing my identity.  Many things  I have taken to be written in stone are being erased with one fell swoop.  I don’t deal well with change in general, and everything is changing now.    I really am at a loss as to what to do.

13 Responses to Growing Pains

  1. Let it roll off your back like water off a duck’s back.
    So she won.
    This time.
    Maybe next time she won’t as you get more used to standing up for Minna.
    No sense in beating yourself up for it.

  2. You’re not a wuss. You’re just trying to correct for something.

    There’s an analogy I tend to use about this shit (taken from something my therapist told me): Say a person breaks her leg. Maybe if it had been set immediately, everything would have healed properly; maybe the break was so bad that there was never any chance of full recovery. Regardless, the leg was broken so badly that she’ll never walk naturally again. This does *not*, however, mean that she can’t learn to walk at a normal rate of speed — she’ll simply have to develop different muscles, work on a new gait, and compensate for the injury in other ways. She’ll always have to adjust for the limp, but she doesn’t have to be slowed down.

    I think, sometimes, we can beat our heads against the wall, trying to fix our limps, trying to make ourselves walk normally, like everyone else. Then, when we can’t do it, we rip ourselves apart for being failures. I have legs, don’t I? I have legs like everyone else. I ought to be able to do this. But it doesn’t work like that.

    I really think some of that very, very old programming in our heads, the kinds that our parents give us from infancy, are limps that can’t be fixed. The break is too old. So we have to find ways to… work around them, rather than hate ourselves for not just making the limp go away with a snap of our fingers. (Mind you, I have no idea how to do this yet, aside from a general philosophical opinion that that’s where the solution to the problem lies. If you figure it out, let me know.)

    Thus ends my pre-coffee musing on analogies for teh crazy.

  3. Here’s a couple of sentences for you to practice in dealing with your mother:

    1. “You’re a smart and capable woman. I’m sure you can figure it out.”

    And… when she tries to continue the conversation:

    2. “I’ve got to run, but I’ll call you in a few days because I want to hear how you solved the problem.”


  4. Robin G., terrorist fist bump to another BJer! Welcome to my blog, and thank you for your thoughtful comments on this entry. I like the analogy of the broken leg that hasn’t been set immediately. Yes, walking normally again is not an option. The problem is, in this case, I don’t have any framework for normal at all. My therapist said I’d have to hang out in crazy for awhile and that everything would feel wrong and cruel because of the fucked-up dynamics of my family. I have to find another way, yes. Hopefully, I will find a map sometime soon.

    Alex, I like the way you think. Maybe you could pretend to be me the next time my mom calls.

  5. Pick your battles, babe. You’ll get another chance to fight for yourself, and one of these times you’ll win. It doesn’t matter if you win every time now. The important part is that you’re trying to do something other than roll over.

    And I think it’s really cool that you’re reclaiming the dragon for you. Thanks for sharing that beautiful poem with me.

  6. Julie, I know I will get plenty of more chances to set the boundaries with my mom. I just wish it wasn’t so fucking exhausting. And, yeah, part of growing up is choosing something because I want it and defining it for myself rather than just accepting what’s fed to me or rejecting everything my mother believes in.

  7. I´ve been blessed with an interesting life. I am a grown man. I have done a lot of things that most folks choose not to, and in some cases couldn´t do even if they tried. Yet put me in a room with my mother and siblings, and I revert right back to the baby of the family. It. Drives. Me. Nuts. And it is up to me to change it. I view my awareness of it as an early step in the change process.

    I share that because your post clearly demonstrates learning and growth. Kudos to you for that. You are already making the changes that you want, and you already know they won´t happen overnight. So go with it, and let those changes take place with practice.

    One final thought. I am learning a second language very, very slowly. People tell me I am making good progress, but it doesn´t seem that way to me. I have much greater awareness of what I don´t know, can´t say, and can´t understand, that of what I do or can. For me, it is easier to see my shortcomings than my progress. Recognizing my progress requires effort I often don´t give. Change can be like that. It doesn´t mean progress isn´t being made.

    I am sympathetic to your frustrations. But your post clearly depicts progress. So keep up the good work!

  8. Hi Minna,
    Just wanted to say hi. I continue to be impressed at your strength and courage (and no I’m not wrong, hush).

    I’m sorry I’ve been scarce recently. But I continue to think of you and send good vibes in your direction. You are extremely impressive.

  9. Rob Marine, another Juicer is assimilated to my blog. Hi. Welcome to my blog, and thank you for commenting. Isn’t it amazing how easily we revert? My friends know me as an opinionated, wisecracking, intelligent, witty woman. My family sees me as the baby with little worthy input (except as a walking dictionary).

    You are right that progress is hard to see when you are the one doing the…progressing. I have seen that several times in my past, so I think I need to just hold onto that knowledge when it seems I’m stuck in the same damn rut.

    Betsy, I’ve missed you, girl. And, I am arguing with you in my head, but I will keep it to myself for the time being. You are in my thoughts as well. Did you ever make the cookies for Cole?

  10. Thanks Minna, I am glad to be here. This was the first post I read here, and being an opinionated wisecracking wittless man, I felt compelled to comment. Of course now that I have read some of the backstory, my opinion-ation-ator takes a different tack.

    I am not okay with your parents. While your fuck-wit father, (and I say that the kindest way I know how), deserves eternity in the emotional dead-zone of all conscious life forms, it is actually your mom that pisses me off more. She seems to have emotionally dumped the family´s functionality onto you when you were just eleven, and seems to blame you for not having fixed it. Somehow the words “Thanks Ma” don`t come to mind.

    I am not a shrink, so I won´t pretend to know the shrinky-terms and solutions for your situation, but I know what WTF! looks like, and you´ve lived with it your whole life. The fact that you´re about to hit forty reflects a toughness built into you that you seem to have a blind spot for. That´s a shame, ´cause the world needs more of you strong-and-loving types. (If you weren´t loving, you wouldn´t feel the sadness you´re experiencing.)

    I want you to know something.It was on my 40th birthday that I finally admitted to myself that “I am doing this wrong”, (“this” being the whole living-my-life thingy.) I decided to find a better way. Now I am one of the most content people I know. And I have certainty that I am doing it right (for me). So don´t distress, it can be done. And you are intelligent and introspective enough to be able to pull it off at least as well as I have. So no quitting.

    Shoot me an email if you want a brief description of the path I took. You can decide if there´s any part of it you would like to re-purpose for your own use. (I will not be offended if you´d rather find your own way, natch.)

  11. No, he never sent me his address. I totally would have, though!! But I decided I’d better stop pestering him. 🙂

  12. Rob Marine, opinionated is always welcome. I don’t think you are witless, though, so you will have to work on that.

    Yeah, in some ways, it’s easier to deal with my father because I have long accepted that I will never have any kind of real or meaningful relationship with him. It doesn’t bother me at all, and it’s actually freeing because I don’t have to keep smashing my head against a wall with him.

    My feelings for my mother, on the other hand, is much more complicated, enmeshed, and difficult to unravel. I want to have some kind of relationship with her, but I am currently at a loss as to how to attain one that is based upon mutual respect, love, and warmth.

    I would be happy to hear what helped you on your path towards contentment. You can post here if you like or email me to the addy that is found on the About Me page.

    Betsy, yeah, I can see Cole being all curmudgeonly about it. What is it about him that makes us women want to take care of him? I think it’s the combination of the soft soft heart and the grumpy exterior.